I sit by my grandmother in the hospital room. She’s out of the ICU, finally. But she is weak and in pain.
She raises a shaking hand, motions for my aunt.
“I want to go,” she says in Hindi. For some reason, I can fully understand her. Anybody else in that language, no.
I reach over and hold her hands in mine. Her skin, always so soft. Those very hands that welcomed me into this world. That held me close. The hands that raised me when I was a little boy.
“Barimummy,” I say, using the name I gave to her as a child. Literally translated, it means: Big Mom.
She turns her face to me slowly. My Big Mom. Her body so tiny in the hospital bed.
“Where do you want to go?” I ask in English.
“Bhagwan ke ghar,” she says. God’s house.
She wants to go be with God. The word Bhagwan, said with such tenderness and reverence, it makes me think of love and creation and the very Universe itself wrapped into one.
“Mummy,” my aunt says, stroking my grandmother’s forehead. “You will get better and we will take you home and I will wash your hair.”
As far back as I can remember, her hair was always white and long and flowing. She, the wise one. The one everyone loved. The one the neighbors came to for advice. The one everyone trusted.
“Guess what?” I point to my head and grin for effect. “Our hair is similar.”
Last time she saw me, I had short hair, reminiscent of the high and tight from my Army days. This time, it’s a big shock of white everywhere. She laughs, taking my aunt by surprise. It’s the first time she has laughed in the hospital.
The next day, when I return to the hospital, my mother and aunt are in the room, both reading out loud from a book in Sanskrit. My Grandmother seems to be sleeping.
I motion to my mother. “Shouldn’t we be quiet, let her rest?”
“We are reading the Gita,” my aunt says. “It is what we are supposed to do for her.”
“It’s tradition, beta,” my mother says. She looks so tired. “When a person is dying, it is important to do this.”
I nod, feeling foolish, and sit and listen. When they finish, a thought occurs to me.
“Can I read it to her?”
“Of course,” my mother says. “I’ll buy an English version for you tonight.”
I smile. In my pocket is the world’s largest library. I pull out my iPhone, fire up Safari, and a minute later, have an English version ready to go. My aunt reviews it, then satisfied, tells me to read Chapter eighteen. The title: Final Revelations of the Ultimate Truth.
I go and stand by my grandmother’s bed. She raises a shaking hand up to me. She is ready. My first time ever with this ancient text. I start fast, my voice stumbling.
“Asked Arjuna, I want to know the truth,
and also about sacrifice.”
My grandmother closes her eyes softly.
“All of these acts should be performed
renouncing the attachment to the fruit of actions.”
I don’t have to look up from my phone. I can feel her listening.
“Without aversion to unpleasant work
and without attachment to pleasant work,
the renouncer is intelligent and free
from all doubts.”
I slow down and find my pace. I’m no longer stumbling. I read out loud. When I finish, her eyes are still closed. Her face, calm. And I am in awe. I’ve just read fundamental human truths on happiness, on right action, on giving one’s all to their task without attachment to outcome. It’s also about letting go and giving up to something greater than yourself.
This is a gift I’ve been given, I realize, to take part in an ancient ritual of helping a loved one cross to the other side. I read it to her one more time the day I leave.
My last memory of her is the darkened hospital room. The rhythmic beep of the heart monitor, the white sheets over her tiny body, the oxygen mask on her face. I stand by her side. She knows I’m leaving. She raises a hand and places it over my head, blessing me. The effort tires her out. Hand drops, eyes close.
I kiss her forehead, walk to the door and watch her for a long time. My mind is a numb echo. Then I walk back and kiss her forehead again. I think I repeat this twice.
“It’s time to go,” my aunt says gently. “Your flight will leave.”
I nod and give her a hug, then walk out the room, take the elevator down to the ground floor, past the sleepy guard, and on to the waiting car, then the hotel, a glass of white wine by the garden in the musty Delhi air, and off to the airport, and on to the plane, seatbelts, wheels up, and as I stare out the window to the night, I think of my grandmother taking in her remaining breaths on this planet. A sudden exhaustion sucks me in and I fall asleep.
She passes away two days after I return to the U.S. For the first several weeks, I wake up from dreams of her, crying. There was one point in the hospital room, when it was just her and I, me standing by her side and holding her hand, and I felt her drop.
Something in her started to go. The oxygen saturation monitor started beeping. I held tighter. There was nothing to do. We’d spoken with the doctors, it was her time, and no measures would be taken.
I held and she dropped and I held tighter and she dropped and I felt my chest squeeze from the inside. The monitor beeped louder. And then, just as fast as it’d happened, it stopped. Her breathing became regular. She started to rise. But my heart squeezed and squeezed.
I’d wake up to that memory, crying. Wishing I could have done something to take away her pain. You hold a hand, you hold it tight, you give it all the love you got. Everything. But sometimes, that is not enough.
Sometimes, life has its own plan and it has run its course. Do we hold on for ourselves or for the one whose time has come? Ourselves, I suspect.
It’s been over a month. I don’t wake up crying anymore. Besides, if she saw me this way, she’d lovingly smack me upside the head and tell me to stop being silly and find a great girl and get married. Thinking of her doing that always makes me laugh.
I remember her, this amazing human being who was such an influence in my life, and I smile, and I feel, for lack of better words, a depth of gratitude.
And that’s what love transforms into when the person is gone. Gratitude.
The novel I’ve spent the last few years working on is finally coming out. Based on my life, it’s a story about love, forgiveness, and following your heart.
If you pre-order it, that would mean the world to me. It’s available online here:
21 thoughts on “The Hands of Love”
Thank you for this, Kamal. It has been a while since your words graced these eyes; the timing is good for my eyes are sore and your words are sweet!
I am glad you made that beautiful woman laugh in her final days. As they say, the last one laughing laughs the longest.
Ps. Your hair is awesome.
I’ve missed your writing. I’m sorry for your loss… Gratitude indeed. No words, just love 🙏.
I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this intimate moment in your life. The way you articulate the tenderness of the moment speaks to the love that is greater than us all.
My deepest gratitude for your recent loss. I’d love to learn more about your grandmother.
I wanted badly to ask you when we met that evening at the Ritz in Nob Hill about your childhood. About the depth of love that filled you growing up, because there is no other explanation to me of how you are so capable of exuding such warmth to the world. As adults our heart gets banged up pretty well:) But, it must have been your childhood that rooted you in a light that attracts so many to your spirit. I wanted to learn how I can give that depth of comfort to my kids.
My grandfather meant the world to me, and I completely grasp the heaviness of your grief. They never leave us! One day soon, I hope to share a private story about my grandfather that I feel will give you a sense of fullness. Always here if you ever need a shoulder or comfort from one of your biggest fans. Sending you lots of love and blessings.
Wrapping you in xxx
Sherry Abdou Director of Booking 33voices.com
What a beautifully written piece, Kamal. One of my favorites. What a special relationship you shared and incredible memories you have in your heart, where they will continue to live on. And so it is.
I love you, my friend.
In peace and joy, Leslie Green
Kamal, as always, your words transcend so many of our feelings. I too am very close with my grandmother and can’t imagine the depth of gratitude you feel for yours now. She’s smiling down at you and will be with you always. Perhaps giving you the nice smack on the head when you need it. They always know exactly when we do and the right way to say it. Your family and you are in our thoughts and prayers, always. We love you very much!
Thank you, Jenna.
This was beautiful. I lived every line of this once, though I never put it into words. It ravaged me, and since that time I’ve struggled to find the purpose in putting anything into words. But the feelings I had reading this piece; I see the purpose in it again. Thank you, Kamal. I hope Big Mom’s found peace in God’s house, and that you find peace in that.
Beautiful brother. You’re a golden soul.
What a beautifully written piece. I did not know of you until today. Received an email for an investment in PR, and you were on the marquee of speakers. Curiosity made me google your name, and lo and behold I am on this page. The phrase from The Gita spoke to me in my current state of affairs, but the underlying tale, one about living in the moment, observing, being vulnerable and compassionate is what life is truly about. You were fortunate to have such a loving Grandmother, and she to have you. Hope to cross paths in the future. Wish you peace.
i lost my grandmother about ten years ago, No I can’t say that. My Gramma B crossed over about ten years ago. I was talking to an uncle of mine the other day about my Gramma
and the last thing he said was remember your Gramma is always with you. I have never cried like this before. It is a feeling that is better left without bumbling descriptions of the indescribable.
I said, I couldn’t say I lost my Gramma because, although I can’t hug her now I can find her always because she is always with me therefore never lost.
Kamal know your Big Mom is close.
I love myself I love myself I love myself
Beautiful words, Cal. Thank you for them.
Thank you for sharing this. My grandfather passed in December, and I have had trouble finding a way to understand his lingering presence in my life. Your words capture it with incredible precision…
“I can feel her listening.”
I can still feel him listening. I hope you have that comfort too.
Thank you, Jenay.
We are lucky that God gifted us with grandparents 🙂
Much needed are the grandchildren like you 🙂
Speechless , a lot to feel
Thank you, Anjali. Yes, we really are lucky to have such grandparents.
Wishing you all the best Kamal. Want to let you know I read your book, “Love yourself like your life depends on it”, and it changed my life. I hope that brings you a little happiness when you read it.
Thank you, Michael.
My condolences… the bond with grandparents is often a special one, and it’s a gift! She’ll continue to live in your heart ❤️